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Made in the early-morning of talking pictures, this belies any notion you might have of early talkies, with fast editing, a deleriously moving camera, and sharp script. Sets are magnificent, with the luxury liner where the action takes place assuming the atmosphere of some Byzantine palace. Best of all, it's capped off with a tour-de-force cat-and-mouse shoot-out through the vast engine room, which James Wong Howe's photography turns into a visual wonderland-maze of catwalks, huge machines and glossy steam. Script, story and playing are all top-notch.
A pretty fair movie -- look for Myrna Loy as she begins her ascent to Queen of Hollywood. The real star for me in Jame Wong Howe's magnificent photography, lovely deep focus work ten years before Greg Toland 'revolutionized' pictures with it.
This was the first talkie to extensively observe shipboard life and TITANIC owes everything to it. The plot is forgettable, but what is not, are the sets. The art direction was extensive in creating vast interiors of an ocean liner, right down to the bowels of the steam rooms, and a chase for a fugitive near the end of the film runs the gamut through them all. The art direction deservedly won an Oscar.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Lois Moran may have been F. Scott Fitzgerald's inspiration for
Rosemary, the sweet starlet in "Tender is the Night" but it is a pity
she didn't inspire studio bosses to find her better movies. Samuel
Goldwyn discovered her in Paris and bought her to Hollywood where she
was given the role of Laurel in "Stella Dallas". Apart from that and
"Transatlantic" she appeared in no other films of note but the next
year (1932) she was on Broadway starring in George Gershwin's "Of Thee
I Sing" and the sequel "Let Them Eat Cake". Broadway saw something that
had alluded Hollywood.
In a terrific long panning shot, all the bustle of boarding a huge ocean liner is depicted - from the taxis pulling up, everyone streaming through the entrances, the baggage trolleys, even a little stray dog (looked a lot like Asta) and all the crew working to get the liner off to a smooth start. Jed Kramar (Jean Hersholt) confides to his daughter Judy (Lois Moran) that this will be the start of a new life for them, Monty Greer (Edmund Lowe) is on the run from the police and in the next cabin, Kay Graham (Myrna Loy, spelt Mirna in the credits) is promising her insufferable husband Henry (John Halliday) that she will try to be more cordial to his mistress, Sigrid (Greta Nissen) next time she pops into their cabin.
Linking the main characters is Monty - he accidentally makes the acquaintance of Kay while looking for his bag, he already knows Sigrid and tries to convince her to leave Henry to his wife, Kay, who loves him very much. A robbery is being planned and Graham, a successful banker, is the target. Even though news has just come through that his bank has failed, Graham is not bothered as he is fleeing the country with most of the securities and money he could lay his hands on. Kramar, a depositer with the bank, is ruined but when he tries to confront Graham, he is thrown out like a piece of riff raff. An attempt is made on Graham's life and both Kramar and Greer are held on charges of attempted murder.
With a plot very reminiscent of "Grand Hotel" (and seeing that Vicki Baum published her novel in 1929, this maybe the first (although slight) adaptation of it) with Edmund Lowe (substituting for John Barrymore) as the debonair thief willing to lend a helping hand to anyone in distress, especially Myrna Loy (substituting for Greta Garbo) as the let down wife, the real star of "Transatlantic" is the atmospheric cinematography of James Wong Howe and the magnificent sets. Fox, more than any of the other major studios, embraced the Expressionism that came out of European movies of the 20s and "Transatlantic" had a very Continental air about it. The film credits and even various newspaper clippings that appeared throughout the film were in French. Also it helped that there were no big name stars - Edmund Lowe, Lois Moran, Greta Nissen, John Halliday, Myrna Loy (when she was still a supporting player) all gave the movie a European feel.
Highly, Highly Recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
At the rate he's going, he's not going to make it from one side of the
Atlantic to the other. Edmund Lowe is the cad of all cads-a bounder, a
charlatan, a snake on the ocean. He's on his way to Europe working on
the idea for a tunnel from one coast to the other, a ridiculous
prospect in itself, and it seems to be his goal to make love to every
woman (attached or not) on the ocean liner. Among his intended
conquests are Lois Moran, Greta Nielsen and a very young Myrna Loy.
Other situations include passengers dealing with a bank crash and a not
so surprising murder, followed by a storm at sea. Moran's father, Jean
Hersholt, confronts John Halliday over the bank failing while various
husbands confront the amoral Lowe.
This isn't a great movie, but interesting in its depiction of excess on the high seas just 20 years after the Titanic and only a couple of years before the Moritania. It's early 1930's Art Deco with a mostly unknown cast, with Loy the most famous name in the film, yet not having a lot to do. But while a bit creaky and predictable, there's enough elements of pre-code scandal and sin to keep the audience engaged. Lowe goes to show ya that even a somewhat paunchy middle aged man can get all the girls he wants. The twists and turns come at an alarming rate, so if you remain patient with it, you'll find it an early talkie with many great qualities, not the least of which is its Oscar winning art direction.
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